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What is the Connection Between Lung Cancer and Back Pain?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 22 August 2016
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Lung cancer and back pain can be linked, usually when a patient has metastatic lung cancer spreading outside the margins of the lungs. Sometimes, back pain is an early warning sign before a tumor has had an opportunity to grow large, depending on the placement of the growth. Back pain may occur with or without other lung cancer symptoms, like bloody sputum and difficulty breathing. Patients being evaluated and treated for lung cancer should make sure to report all symptoms and side effects, as sometimes they provide important clues for medical care providers.

When a cancer gets especially large and starts putting pressure on the tissue of the lung, back and shoulder pain can develop. Usually, the pain gets worse when the patient breathes deeply. Metastatic cancers growing beyond the lungs can also start to cause back pain by putting pressure on nerves. People can have back pain for many reasons other than lung cancer, however, so the two are not always related.

When cause by lung cancer, the back pain does not improve when the patient takes logical steps to treat it. Chiropractic adjustments are ineffective, as are rest, ice, and heat. Patients may adjust their activity levels and lifting habits, but still have pain. Pain management medications will block the pain signals and bring temporary relief, but the pain will return, and it can increase over time as the tumor grows.

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Patients who notice back pain in association with difficulty breathing, fatigue, and bloody sputum may want to be evaluated for lung cancer. Lung cancer and back pain can be more common in people with occupational exposure from construction and mining, as these individuals may have prior back injuries from work that flare up as the tumor grows. These people can also be more likely to attribute the pain to the old injury, not noticing changes in the pain indicative of a different cause.

While back pain is often characteristic of metastatic lung cancer, this is not always the case. A patient being evaluated for lung cancer who has been experiencing back pain should not assume the worst. A medical screening will be needed to learn more about the nature of the cancer and to develop an appropriate treatment plan, based on the stage of the cancer, the patient's general level of health, and the goals for treatment.

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fBoyle
Post 3

My dad died from lung cancer. When he was diagnosed, it was stage three and back pain, specifically upper back pain, was one of the symptoms he had. He used to say that the pain was concentrated in the chest area but ran up and down his back too. Unfortunately, his cancer spread too quickly. Although he appeared to go into remission for a short time, it started spreading again and eventually we lost him.

candyquilt
Post 2

@burcinc-- Lung cancer does cause chest pain. And chest pain is more common than back pain. As far as I know, back pain only occurs when lung cancer has spread to the bones and spine, or to surrounding organs. So it's not one of the preliminary signs of lung cancer.

When lung cancer first occurs, symptoms are chest pain, coughing, fatigue, wheezing and difficult breathing. Even these may not occur in some people though. Cancer in general is strange. It causes symptoms early in some people but not in others. So it's not possible to generalize about this. But if someone does have back pain in addition to some of these other symptoms, it needs to be taken seriously and a doctor should be seen right away.

burcinc
Post 1

For some reason, I thought that lung problems cause pain in the chest. I guess I thought so because whenever I have an upper respiratory infection, I feel the pain in my chest, not in my back. So I thought it would be the same for all lung issues but I guess not.

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